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7 ways to motivate yourself

Do you find it hard to meet your self-imposed deadlines and work on your personal goals? Well then, this post is for you and covers my way of meeting my own deadlines and goals.

I’ve become really good at meeting my own deadlines: my papers are always submitted on time and usually a few weeks before the deadline, I haven’t had to study the night before an exam since my very first year at university and I developed the habit to start a homework right after the assignment was given in class.

As a result, I feel much more confident and I avoid last minute hasty and sloppy work.

Here’s an overview of the 7 key points to increase your inner motivation

1. Take yourself seriously

I used to find it very hard to meet my self-imposed deadlines, as I felt as if they were not real. Deadlines imposted by school or others were the ones I used to never fail, but my own deadlines were rather optional, just in case I don’t have anything better to do.
However, at a certain moment, I realized that it is important to take myself, my goals and my deadlines serious. Many of these deadlines help me work towards goals which are important, but not urgent. Those are the tasks which really move my life, studies or research forward, but they just are not urgently burning in my mailbox or on my doorstep.

2. Plan towards it

In my case, I usually try to draft a conference paper relatively soon after the notice of acceptance of the abstract is sent to me. Typically, I will work on the draft 2 or 3 months before the deadline. I won’t lock myself down in my office and work on it, but I will schedule a week or two in which that paper is my most important project, while keeping the labwork and educational tasks running at their normal pace. I’ve figured out that I need to work on the draft that early, since my supervisors are very busy and it can take some time between my finishing the draft and having an appointment to discuss it.
If you have a completely different goal, say training for a 10k run, then too, you need to start planning months ahead and build up your routine bit by bit. And, of course, this is only possible if you take yourself serious and will take the time to go training on the days and times you’ve scheduled with yourself.

3. Schedule time 

As I wrote in the previous point, I for example make writing the conference paper my most important task for the week. I’ll try to either reserve blocks of time in my planner to work on it (block of about 1,5 hour work best for me), or just make sure that I can focus on it. Most of the time my planner isn’t really fully booked with meetings, as in the end I mostly work on my own research project, but I tend to work around on scattered little projects and administrative tasks. Having my own time management system helps me to schedule time to work on my most important task.
The same holds for the running example. As I wrote before, you can only run 10k after training for it, and scheduling these trainings.

4. Log your process

Visualizing my process is a great way to motivate myself. One of my new year’s resolutions is to get enough sleep so I can concentrate better during the day and think more clearly. I’ve started to keep a little log in which I track my bedtimes. The first two weeks were quite sad, with only one day a week in which I got to bed in time, but the past week I’ve been having 4 successes and this week it will probably be even better. Just keeping this little log makes me keep this resolution serious.
I’ve also seen people keeping track of their weight loss by visualizing it on a graph or by keeping it in a log.

5. Talk about it

By making your goal public, you will have some external pressure or additional motivation to work towards a success. Regardless of what I am working towards (drafting a paper, training for running or trying to get enough sleep), I always tell someone about it. That person then will every now and then ask me how my progress is. And of course, it’s always nice to share good progress.

6. Track your results

Unlike logging progress, tracking the results is more oriented towards the results. Of all new year’s resolutions I started off with, which ones did I keep? Now that I am getting more sleep, how is this affecting my creativity? 

7. Celebrate your success

Last but not least, celebrate your successes! I used to skip this point, and rush off to the next task on my list, but now I’ve started to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Reaching a goal that I wanted for myself, such as drafting a paper by the time of my self-imposed deadline, is a success in two ways: I’ve done something that I wanted to do and of course, the result itself is something to be proud of too.
Ending with this positive feeling serves as a motivation to fulfill more of  your own goals, as it drags you into a circle of personal wins.

To summarize, the main idea behind this is that you become your own mom, boss, coach and teacher.

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This Post Has 29 Comments
  1. Awesome post Eva. Sometime, I'd love to read if you could elaborate on point 1 above in a future post, taking yourself seriously. The idea of meeting self-imposed deadlines is really challenging to a lot of people, so there would be a lot of interest in reading how you went through that transformation.

  2. i practice this last 5 to 6 years, if you religiously follow this, i assure you, you will achieve your 90% personal goals and enjoy every movement of your life but it is very dificult practice.wonderful article, thank you

  3. Sorry- I don't find this motivational- me thinks you never really experienced prolonged excessive procrastination complacency and laziness. When your drive is in a rut and only the deadline gets you to start, that is a real problem and I don't think these tips are for those needing real motivation they're like little tips for a blip here and there not serial offenders 😉 I have two modes- intense work and what work, there's no in-between and when I'm in no work mode it takes something gargantuan to make me start. If I can put it off I will, and that's what I do, till the point it's too late to start and I need extensions. I think I peaked at GCSE, then A levels I just managed to get back in gear in time for exams, but university is near impossible for me to be disciplined.

  4. I see what you mean – I indeed go through cycles of slacking off several times during a day, combined with cycles of productivity. The length of those cycles seem to vary though – I've had times with very few concentrated time in a day (my main problem is that i'm totally scatter-brained, starting on umpty different things at the same time or randomly wandering off on the interwebz). For what it's worth, I try to define what i need to do and get it done within a reasonable time during the day – knowing that then i have some time to relax at night…

  5. nice … encouraging …what about concentration … I mean if I sit for 2 hrs to study I hardly study for 30 mins .. its hard to concentrate sometimes(actually most of the times) … and which indeed demotivate me to study .

  6. I have a poor concentration as well… so here's a few things that help:- meditation to improve over a longer term my concentration- enough sleep + sports (tired brain is worthless)- clear goals- frequent breaks

  7. Thanks for your thoughts!I wanted to follow this up with a question: after years of making my PhD (experiments plus experiments, job and some teaching), months of writing it (while still having a job), and the end so close by my motivation seems to have dropped abruptly… I still need to work on it, but since is nearly done and I'm so tired and bored with it, I just don't seem to find the way to make myself productive… It might be a writers block but with my goal of submitting in a week and a half I need to actually work to make it perfect in time… but just can't seem to focus… (absurd, managed for years, but now that I'm so close… just can't seem to convince myself to focus…) Any tips??

  8. Have you really lost interest, or are you tired/stressed/…?I'm in the final phase of making the changes based on the comments of my committee, and I'm getting mostly tired of the long ride that it has been – and that causes sometimes these ideas of \”I don't care anymore, I just want 'em to leave me alone\”

  9. Exactly! I'm at a very similar point, tying to improve the manuscript based on my supervisor comments… and I'm VERY tired if it… just want it to be over… but some work is still needed…

  10. Some colleagues use tools to block websites (for example Facebook, 9gag etc.). To challenge myself I created a small tool. Scheduling meetings with my supervisor works as well.

  11. I dont find it very motivational..everyday I make new strategy but do not why its never implemented ….what should i do now…I know that I have to follow it very strictly…but I wll defer work every time…and the end of the day I am very angry at me…please help me somebody!!

  12. Take a break, get rid of the stress, high expectations and pressure on yourself in the first place.Then, make a planning that looks too easy – and try to stick to it. If you manage to do so, treat yourself to doing whatever you feel like in the evening (great dinner, movie, bath, you name it).

  13. When I was in Sri Lanka I learned to have no intent with meditation, other than clearing the mind. I did not try to levitate. I did not try to become a teacher or become an evangelist for meditation. I just did it, to clear and relax the mind.

  14. I'm on the final lap of my PhD too and it is indeed the worst and hardest part! But I keep pushing and pushing and telling myself to keep pushing so that it's over soon!

  15. If you have a completely different goal, say training for a 10k run, then too, you need to start planning months ahead and build up your routine bit by bit. And, of course, this is only possible if you take yourself serious and will take the time to go training on the days and times you've scheduled with yourself.

  16. These tips are great. And I would like to add another – have some skin in the game. Most people are not motivated because they are not committed. And the reason for that is because they lack ‘ownership’ or ‘belonging’ with what they want to achieve.

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